Champions Crowned at Muscatell Ojibwe Forests Rally

Article originally written for American Rally Association here,

Detroit Lakes, Minnesota (August 27, 2017)

Travis Pastrana and Robbie Durant bested Subaru Rally Team USA teammates David Higgins and Craig Drew this weekend at Muscatell Ojibwe Forests Rally, deciding the inaugural ARA Championship Series on the Super Special Stages in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota.

The overall championship was one of three up in the air at the start of this weekend. In RO4WD, Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski bested rivals Travis Nease and Krista Skucas to win Ojibwe and the class championship. The Production 4WD class Driver’s Championship was won by Dennis Romero after Lauchlin O’Sullivan and Scott Putnam suffered an engine failure midway through the day. Putnam won the Co-drivers championship due to Romero changing co-drivers for this event. 2WD was taken by Ryan Millen and Rhianon Gelsomino of Toyota Racing, putting a cap on their Perfect Season.

Saturday’s weather was wet. Frequent and heavy rain showers blanketed the area, reducing Ojibwe’s normally dusty stages to a slurry of muck and mud. The stages were slippy on the racing line, off the racing line there was no grip at all. Several drivers had their rallies end on the 88 miles of forest stages, even more had minor offs, or collected some form of damage.

In Open class, Travis Pastrana started the day holding the rally lead. A series of gremlins and issues befell his teammate, David Higgins, on the first day, forcing him to drop time. The disappointing Day 1 performance allowed Pastrana to start the day with a 2:15s lead over Higgins. Barry McKenna and Leon Jordan in the Fiesta S2000 Turbo split the Subarus, starting Saturday in second 1:15s from the lead.

Early in the day McKenna made contact with a large stage-side rock, tearing the front left suspension from the Fiesta’s chassis. The impact ended his rally. Meanwhile, with the championship on the line, the battle between the Subarus was starting to heat up.

Despite his comfortable rally lead, Pastrana wouldn’t be able to relax and drive easy to the finish. An Ojibwe win would only force a tie between him and Higgins. The tiebreaker would come down to overall stage finishing positions throughout the entire ARA Championship Series.

Each finishing position was assigned a number, 1 through 10. Finishing first overall on a stage gave a driver a score of 1 for that stage Finish second on a stage to earn a score of 2, and downwards through the positions. Fewest points wins the tiebreaker. Higgins and Pastrana have been incredibly close this season, so close that even with this tiebreaker system in place, the two were neck and neck heading into Saturday.

Pastrana needed to score 3 fewer points than Higgins on Saturday to secure his championship. With McKenna out, the battle effectively came down to stage wins. Pastrana needed 3 on Saturday to win it all. Both drivers knew this, so both pushed as hard as possible on each stage throughout the day. Higgins struck first, taking a win on every stage in the morning loop. Pastrana fought back in the afternoon loop, taking Stage 10. One down.

The final loop consisted of three stages, one in the forest and the two Super Specials in Detroit Lakes. Best two out of three would take the championship. Pastrana took the final forest stage, the first of the loop, by four tenths of a second. Both drivers fought hard on the first Super Special Stage, Higgins used all of the road, and then some, striking a chicane and incurring a 15 second penalty on the stage. Pastrana took the stage win, and with it, the inaugural ARA Championship.

The RO4WD Championship was much more straightforward. Both Jeff Seehorn and Travis Nease had used their drop events before Ojibwe. Seehorn skipped Perce-Neige and Nease had missed STPR. Nease had a three point championship lead coming into the weekend, but the difference between first and second is five points. Whoever finished first in the class would win the championship.

Taking a cue from rival Travis Nease, Seehorn and Jankowski were determined to drive a smooth and conservative Ojibwe. Despite the caution, Seehorn went wide on the incredible slippy Stage 11, making contact with a tree on the side of stage. The impact damaged Seehorn’s right rear suspension and pushed the tire into the fender well. Incredibly, the pair managed to finish the stage, drive the following stage, and return to service with the damage.

Every time he and Karen Jankowski finished and event this season, they finished on the overall podium. Ojibwe would continue that trend. The strong finish gave Seehorn and Jankowski the 5 points needed to win the RO4WD Championship.

Saturday in Production 4WD was a battle between Dennis Romero and CPD Racing’s Lauchlin O’Sullivan. O’Sullivan gained an early lead on Friday and started Day 2 holding a 10 minute advantage in the class. That all changed at the end of Saturday’s morning loop, when O’Sullivan’s motor gave out during transit back to service. Jeff Seehorn and Karen Jankowski towed the stricken Subaru into service.

After the Service session, O’Sullivan’s motor was firing again, but not on all cylinders. Hoping to simply finish the event, the team took the car out on only 3 cylinders. Two miles later a connecting rod broke free from the block, ending CPD Racing’s rally and their driver’s championship hopes. It wasn’t all bad news, though. Scott Putnam took the Co-driver’s championship.

With CPD Racing’s weekend over, RKT Motorsport’s Dennis Romero and Jose Maria Rodriguez inherited the rally lead and Romero had secured the Production 4WD Driver’s Championship.

The only championship decided before Ojibwe, 2WD would prove interesting for another reason this weekend. Ryan Millen and Rhianon Gelsomino came into Ojibwe chasing the illustrious Perfect Season, a win at every Championship Series event. The pair started strong, ending Friday four and a half minutes ahead of Savage Dave Wallingford and Leanne Junnila. One of the only cars to have an uneventful rally, Millen and Gelsomino drove a smooth, fast, and consistent weekend to take the win at Ojibwe and to secure their perfect season, the first in ARA competition.

Dave Wallingford and Leanne Junnila struggled a bit through Friday’s early stages. The pair’s Fiesta R2 Turbo suffered damage at Climb to the Clouds that could not be repaired in time for this weekend. Wallingford instead competed in the older, naturally aspirated, Fiesta R2. The NA car requires a different driving style than his usual turbo one, and Wallingford had some trouble adapting. A much stronger performance on Saturday, taking a stage win in class.

Photo Credit: Alex Wong

About American Rally Association (ARA)

We are a member driven organization dedicated to the sport of stage rally by providing a transparent and inclusive sanctioning body. A 501 (c)(3) non-profit, ARA is lead by elected and appointed board members who deliver a framework for safety, competition, promotion, and educational forums for all aspects of the sport. The common goal of our members, volunteers, and organization is a thriving stage rally program in America.

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